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Born Into War: Keeping Mothers and Babies Alive in Ukraine
As war unfolds all around them, new and expectant mothers in Ukraine are in desperate need of health services and safety. UNICEF is delivering supplies to help facilities provide the support they need.
Kyiv, Ukraine — Yuliya gently rocks her newborn baby in the dank basement of a medical center in Kyiv. Vera is only days old, but her life is already in danger.
“We’re sitting here in the basement. We’ve been crying,” Yuliya says. “It’s terrifying to see smoke and shelling. We’re doing everything we can to save our children.”
It took Yuliya two days traveling on foot from her home outside Kyiv before she reached the safety of the Kyiv Regional Perinatal Center. As the war escalated, Yuliya had no choice but to try to find a safe place to deliver her child. She admits there were moments when she thought she might not make it here at all amid the shelling and explosions that have rocked the area in recent days.
“I had to travel across fields and through forests,” she says, adding that due to certain health issues, not every facility would have been able to help her safely deliver her child. “But thanks to God and the doctors, I now have a baby — and I’m alive.”
Yuliya is just one of the many women and children who have found shelter at the center, the basement of which has been turned into a makeshift maternity ward. Most of the women here only leave the basement when they need to — to wash, or get something to eat. But the last time Yuliya left the basement, she saw smoke and heard explosions outside. She’s now afraid to leave her daughter alone in the basement for fear of becoming separated.
Nataliya Heynts, the center's director, says the situation has been extremely difficult for families. “It’s impossible to be prepared for this,” she says. “It’s extremely cold and dark, and there are no power outlets down here.”
Medical staff at the center are working under intense pressure, delivering children despite the shelling outside, often working without a stable power supply. Some staff have already left with their families. As a result, Nataliya and her remaining colleagues have taken on multiple roles.
“I work as a cook, a regular doctor and a surgeon,” she says. “But it’s our responsibility to be here and make sure that the center is operational.”
In addition to delivery services, the center provides temporary housing for the women who come here for treatment. They “cannot get back home,” Nataliya says, because “they simply no longer have one. We will have to find other solutions.”
Despite the rising security risks, UNICEF remains on the ground in Ukraine, delivering desperately needed supplies and working with partners to ensure that families can receive the treatment they need. In Kyiv, UNICEF has been working in partnership with the Kyiv City Administration to provide health care equipment, hygiene products and other supplies to maternity hospitals and children’s hospitals in the city, including this center.
“We’ve received oxygen concentrators, scales, protective gowns and gloves,” Nataliya says. “All of this will be used for women in labor, small children and premature babies who are currently under our care.”
Yuliya knows firsthand how critical the medical supplies have been for families. But she adds there’s something else she’s desperate for.
“I want us all to stay alive,” she says. “I want peace.”
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Top photo: Yuliya, 38, holds her newborn baby, Vera, born in the basement of Kyiv Regional Perinatal Center amid heavy shelling in March 2022. All photos © UNICEF/2022/Ratushniak. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA.